Fri Jun 14 2:09pm ET
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Whenever Toronto coach Nick Nurse needed inspiration this season, he merely needed to look at his office wall.
Hanging there is a big photo, a finish-line shot of the 2015 Travers Stakes at historic Saratoga Race Course. There are two horses in the frame; one is Triple Crown winner and overwhelming favorite American Pharoah, the other is Keen Ice - who wasn't getting much attention from bettors and had never won on such a big stage.
Keen Ice ran a perfect race that day, and knocked off the champion.
''I just really like the picture,'' Nurse said.
Yes, and there's symmetry now. His Raptors ran a perfect race - and knocked off the two-time NBA champions.
Nurse, a 51-year-old basketball journeyman who has been a coach for 13 different teams in four countries over the last 30 years, is now the coach of the best team in the world. Unknown no more and someone who never will be anonymous again, Nurse guided the Raptors to their first NBA championship in a six-game defeat of the Golden State Warriors.
''I think you can't do very good work if you don't love what you're doing,'' Nurse said after the Raptors dethroned the Warriors on Thursday night. ''I just, I don't know, I never really got discouraged. I didn't really care at the level I was coaching at, I was just trying to learn and get better. That's it.''
Clearly, he learned. And he got better.
Toronto defeated Orlando, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Golden State in these playoffs. That means Nurse, 0-0 as an NBA coach before this season, got his team past ones coached by Steve Clifford, Brett Brown, Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr. That foursome is about the toughest draw a first-year coach in the league could get in his maiden postseason voyage.
''He's one of the hardest-working coaches I've seen,'' Raptors assistant Jamaal Magloire said during Toronto's victory celebration after the title-clinching win. ''When it comes to this team's success, he deserves every bit of it.''
Nurse played at Northern Iowa, started his coaching career there as an assistant and wound up becoming a head coach at Grand View University when he was just 23. He coached in Belgium and Britain. He won a pair of British Basketball League titles as a coach, in Birmingham in 1996 and London in 2000, then got a couple titles in what is now called the G League.
The second G League crown got him noticed. He was at Rio Grande Valley, guided them to a title in 2013 and that's when the Raptors called and wanted to talk to him about offense. They ended up hiring him as an assistant.
''I remember the day well,'' Nurse said. ''Good day.''
And there's some symmetry to it as well. Nurse's last G League team at Rio Grande Valley won the title series over Santa Cruz - ironically, the Warriors' affiliate.
''Oh, man, I'm happy for him,'' Raptors guard Danny Green said.
Nurse is quirky, in a way that shows he's secure doing his own thing.
He often arrived for pregame media sessions wearing a black Nike cap bearing his initials. He carries his guitar on road trips. He will be remembered for throwing a box-and-one defense at Warriors guard Stephen Curry during the NBA Finals, a scheme that probably had never been previously used by anyone in the title series.
He has paid his dues.
The G League, the BBL, the United States Basketball League, the Belgian League, NCAA Division I basketball, NAIA basketball, and now the NBA. Nurse has done the laundry. He's done the driving. He did some of those jobs for almost no money at all, maybe a couple hundred dollars or so a week.
And now he's the ninth coach to win a title in his first NBA season. Coaching nomads everywhere have a new hero now.
''I would hope it inspires some people that are in those situations to keep working,'' Nurse said. ''I always say that all those jobs meant the world to me at the time, right, winning with Birmingham in `96, winning with Rio Grande Valley, whatever year that was. And those games and jobs meant the world to me.''
His world is much different now.
For someone who has never chased attention, it'll be unavoidable when the Raptors defend their NBA title next season.
''Nick has been unbelievable,'' Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. ''He's kind of been the captain of the ship, and he's weathered the storms, and he's kept us even-keeled, and he's made some unusual adjustments and experimented with things. And some things worked and some things didn't, but he was trying. He tried everything and you've got to give that guy a lot of credit in his first year to win a NBA championship.''
Free agent guard Justin Holiday has signed a one-year deal with the Indiana Pacers, where he joins his brother Aaron. Last year, Holiday split time between Chicago and Memphis, playing in 82 games with 77 starts and putting up averages of 10.5 points and 3.9 rebounds on 38.6 percent shooting. Indiana's a better team and because of that won't afford Holiday with the same amount of minutes, but he gives the Pacers a bench option who can hit a ton of threes. There's late round fantasy value here, but not as much as there was for Holiday last season.
Another NBA player appears to be returning to international play, as power forward Dragan Bender has reportedly agreed to a multi-year deal with CSKA Moscow. Bender, whose team option was declined by the Suns and was a free agent, found the NBA free agency landscape to be a tough place for him and despite interest from the Cleveland Cavaliers, it appears Bender's NBA days are over for now. He averaged just five points and four rebounds in 46 games for the Suns last year, including 27 starts. There's enough promise to hold onto him in deeper dynasty leagues, but he's now a non-factor in redraft.
Last season, Detroit Pistons power forward Blake Griffin dealt with a knee injury that limited his availability at the end of the season and the beginning of the playoffs, which led Griffin to have knee surgery in the offseason. The surgery wasn't expected to keep Griffin out of any offseason activities, and Tuesday's announcement that he's resumed light basketball activities keeps Griffin on track to be a full go for the 2019-2020 season. Knee injuries are definitely something to be concerned over, but as long as Griffin is able to take the court when the season opens, his usage on this Pistons team will make him a strong fantasy basketball option next season. There's injury risk, but Griffin's upside is undeniable.
Memphis Grizzlies rookie forward Brandon Clarke was named the MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League. In six games, Clarke averaged 14.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest, showing that he can be a valuable piece of the Grizzlies' rotation this upcoming season. The Grizzlies are a young and rebuilding team, and Clarke is bound to get plenty of minutes in the team's front court this season. He's going to be a valuable fantasy contributor thanks to his ability to score efficiently and rebound well.
The Brooklyn Nets have signed power forward Henry Ellenson to a two-way contract. Ellenson's first three NBA seasons -- split between the Pistons and Knicks -- have largely been disappointments, and he finished last season with an average of six points and 3.5 rebounds per game in just 19 appearances. A two-way deal will limit how much time Ellenson is able to spend on an NBA roster, which means most of his season will be spent with Brooklyn's G-League affiliate in Long Island. Any value Ellenson may have had if he'd signed an actual NBA contract has evaporated with this move.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have waived veteran guard J.R. Smith, clearing the way for Smith to join a contending team. Smith averaged 6.7 points and shot just 30.8 percent from the field last season, but played in just 11 games for Cleveland. A healthy Smith could be a decent bench piece for a playoff team, but he's unlikely to find a role where he'll be more than a team's fourth or fifth guard. That means Smith's fantasy stock is likely to vary wildly on a game-to-game basis, making him someone not worth rostering in most league formats. The only exception would be if Smith doesn't sign with a contender and prioritizes signing somewhere where he'll receive minutes, though it's unclear if a team like that exists.
The Houston Rockets have signed veteran center Tyson Chandler, who played 55 games last season for the Suns and Lakers. Chandler averaged just 3.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, and he'll likely be mired in the back of the Houston rotation this year, seeing 10-15 minutes per game on what could be an irregular basis. This signing doesn't matter for fantasy purposes unless Houston's starting center Clint Capela misses time, in which case Chandler may have a little value in deep leagues.
The Houston Rockets have traded point guard Chris Paul to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Russell Westbrook. It's hard to know what to make of the deal for Paul, because so much remains up in the air. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Thunder are still looking to move Paul after the deal, so there's a very good chance he never plays a game in a Thunder uniform. If he does, he'll likely see a larger usage rate than he has in previous seasons and receive a boost in his statistical output, but the looming threat of another trade leads us to grade this move as an incomplete.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets have completed a deal that sends point guard Russell Westbrook to Houston, pairing him once again with former teammate James Harden. With Paul George no longer in Oklahoma City, Westbrook was set to have a huge season statistically, but he'll go back to playing a role similar to the one he played last year, when he saw a drop in shot attempts and averaged 22.9 points per game, down almost 10 points from his pre-George numbers. Westbrook will also see a reduction in assists playing beside another ball-dominant player, and it would be a surprise to see him lead the league in that category for the third straight year. Overall, Westbrook's value takes a slight hit, though he'll still probably go at the end of the first in fantasy drafts.
Chicago Bulls rookie point guard Coby White is expected to take a backseat to some of the team's other options this upcoming season. Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said that White's got a lot of learning to do and that the speed of the game could be an issue for White, while head coach Jim Boylen has already said Kris Dunn is the team's starting point guard. With Tomas Satoransky in the picture too, it doesn't look like White's going to be fantasy relevant in the early stages of his rookie campaign.
Restricted free agent forward Kelly Oubre Jr. has signed a two-year deal to remain with the Phoenix Suns. Oubre is a solid player who's likely to end up starting at the three for the Suns, and he has solid fantasy upside as a guy who can give Phoenix something close to 15 points and five rebounds per game. Last season was also Oubre's most efficient year as an NBA shooter, and he can be a good fantasy pick in the later rounds of fantasy drafts because of his ability to do a lot of things on the basketball court, even if he isn't going to excel at any one thing.
Shooting guard Avery Bradley is expected to sign a two-year, $9.7 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers upon his clearing of waivers, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. The Grizzlies waived Bradley earlier in the summer, paving the way for the former NBA All-Defensive First Team selection to join a revamped Lakers roster. The second year of Bradley's contract is reported to have a player option, as he'll join Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on the wing in 2019-20. After showcasing his offensive game (16.1 points per contest) over 14 games with Memphis to conclude last season, he may revert to his traditional role of defensive stopper with Los Angeles, which could stunt his upward fantasy trajectory.
The Lakers have signed free agent center DeMarcus Cousins to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. The 28-year-old, who played just 30 regular season games with the Warriors in 2019 after recovering from an Achilles injury the year prior, averaged only 16.3 points and 8.2 boards per contest while playing a career-low 25.7 minutes. He will be reunited with former Pelicans teammates Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo in his new home in Los Angeles and will look to remain healthy in hopes of getting paid next Summer.
Free-agent shooting guard/small forward Danny Green (Raptors) plans to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, sources said late on Friday. He was also being pursued by the Dallas Mavericks. The deal is reportedly for two years and $30 million. It isn't quite the member of the Toronto Raptors championship squad that they were looking for, as Kawhi Leonard instead decided to join the Los Angeles Clippers. But Green isn't a bad addition, as he'll help the Lakers perimeter shooting. He might get a chance to join the starting five, and should be a decent middle- to late-round fantasy option in most leagues for his 3-pointers.
The Los Angeles Clippers have agreed to a four-year, $142 million deal with forward Kawhi Leonard on Saturday. Leonard, who averaged a career-high 26.6 points per game while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field while with the Raptors last season, will undoubtedly be a top-five selection in upcoming fantasy drafts, despite being paired with newly acquired forward Paul George and missing a few games due to load management purposes.
New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (knee) suffered a knee-to-knee hit in the first half of Friday's Summer League debut against former college teammate R.J. Barrett and the New York Knicks. The injury was to his left knee and he was unable to return. The injury is not expected to be serious, the team is likely taking a cautious approach with the No. 1 overall pick. It was a crazy game at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, as the game was eventually suspended in the second half due to a 7.1 earthquake centered near Ridgecrest, Calif., causing the giant speakers and scoreboard to sway.
Forward Paul George is being traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Clippers in exchange for forward Danilo Gallinari, guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and four unprotected first-round draft picks. George, who will now join forward Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles, had the most productive season of his career in 2019, finishing the year by averaging 28 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting nearly 39 percent from deep. He will likely see a slight reduction in production with Leonard in the mix, but he could easily find himself in the MVP conversation once again this season and should be considered a first-round pick in upcoming fantasy drafts.
The Phoenix Suns have just been swindled out of one of their better young assets in De'Anthony Melton for the sole reason of dumping Josh Jackson. Jackson, the former fourth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft has had troubles, on and off the court, and now finds himself in a new home with an abundance of young talent and competence. This is an opportunity to rehab his game and image if legal troubles do not interfere. In this deal, the Grizzlies sent over veteran shooting guard Kyle Korver and defensive-minded point guard Jevon Carter and received two second-round picks (one conditional). Korver's partially guaranteed deal is reportedly getting bought out, and he will receive interest from the Lakers, Sixers, and Bucks.
The Detroit Pistons have signed veteran power forward Markieff Morris. The Pistons starting frontcourt of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond is due to take up most of the minutes there, however, Morris should fill in across the forward/center lines throughout the year. He used to play a little bit of small forward and could potentially fill-in there too when Detroit wants to go massive. Morris took a step back last season as a neck injury cut into his year and possibly hampered his play but could be due for a bounce-back if fully healthy. He's not someone to target in most fantasy drafts and should be an occasional streamer at best.
Utah Jazz point guard Justin Wright-Foreman notched 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting during Tuesdays Summer League win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Competition for the point guard slot on the Jazz roster has ramped up significantly with the addition of both Mike Conley and Emmanuel Mudiay, but Utah thought highly enough of Wright-Foreman to select him in the second round of last months NBA Draft. A collegiate standout at Hofstra, Wright-Foreman averaged 27.1 points per game during his senior year, and to open the summer, he has picked up offensively where he left off.